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Bettendorf city administrator inducted into Iowa League of Cities Hall of Fame
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Bettendorf city administrator receives honor

Bettendorf city administrator inducted into Iowa League of Cities Hall of Fame

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Decker Ploehn, who's been Bettendorf's city administrator for more than 30 years, was inducted into the Iowa League of Cities Hall of Fame for his contributions to local government.

A little more than 30 years ago, 10,000 fewer people lived in Bettendorf. The new I-74 bridge was barely an idea in planners’ minds. And Decker Ploehn started his decades-long tenure as city administrator of the growing city.

Ploehn, who has overseen Bettendorf as it became a growing Quad-City and reshaped its downtown, was inducted into the Iowa League of Cities Hall of Fame in September.

The award, created in 1995, recognizes individuals who’ve provided “extraordinary public service to the League and local government,” a news release stated.

“Selection for the award is made on the basis of service rendered to city government generally, advocating for cities and good local government, and providing exceptional professional assistance and support to cities.”

Ploehn was inducted alongside Coralville Mayor John Lundell.

"I'm flattered by it," Ploehn said. "I'm flattered by it, but, you know, nobody does this stuff by themselves. This is a team sport, this is a team game."

The oldest of 10 children, Ploehn grew up in Davenport. He initially left to attend seminary school and become a priest, but became a police officer instead.

Ploehn started his career with the city of Bettendorf in 1975, when the city’s population was between 22,000 and 27,000 people. He served several ranks on the police force, including detective sergeant, detective, and patrolman, before serving as police chief from 1986 through 1990, when he became city administrator.

During his tenure, Bettendorf has rapidly changed.

Since 1990, the city has grown 40% to 39,102, gone through major developments including the TBK Bank Sports Complex, the new I-74 bridge, and the reshaping of its riverfront and downtown.

The I-74 bridge, a bi-state project that in its planning stages has spanned Ploehn’s entire career, is on track to have both bridges open to traffic by the end of the year.

The new bridge meant Bettendorf’s riverfront and downtown would be reshaped. Buildings were demolished, plans were made for a walkable park, businesses built headquarters in downtown Bettendorf, and a market-rate apartment complex went up adjacent to the bridge with help from the city.

To the north, Bettendorf has ample land where residential subdivisions have sprung up. The TBK Bank Sports Complex opened in 2018, bringing droves of youth sports teams and restaurants to serve them.

Ploehn is quick to point out, however, that projects that have grown Bettendorf and its amenities are the result of many people working together.

“As you can tell with the I-74 bridge, it's two state governments, federal money, contractors that built it, engineers that engineered it. I was just a little tiny cog in a wheel that helps keep the wheel moving,” said Ploehn, who has two adult children with his wife, Jayne.

With growth, too, comes challenges. Bettendorf is the least affordable of the Quad-Cities in which to rent. Keeping up with infrastructure for the city’s growing population, too, is a challenge the city continues to address, Ploehn said.

While the city has added bike paths and grown its outdoor amenities during Ploehn’s tenure, the city’s top priorities include redeveloping its community center, upgrading Splash Landing, and adding a Splash Pad in the city.

Out of all the city’s accomplishments, Ploehn said his proudest is developing relationships with his staffers, regionally, and beyond. Ploehn has also been a part of several community boards, and can sometimes be spotted emceeing to fundraise for nonprofits.

“Relationships are how you get things done,” Ploehn said. “You know people, you trust people, you have relationships with people that you can ask them to help you, or vice versa.”

When he accepted the award, Ploehn said about 20 people traveled to Coralville to surprise him. Ploehn said he was flattered, even though he doesn’t like surprises.

At last week’s city council meeting, council members and city staff gave Ploehn a standing ovation as Mayor Robert Gallagher and council member Scott Naumann gave a nod to Ploehn for the award.

“This was an easy one, I know that for several years, it’s been debated when would be the right time to acknowledge someone who has given so much not only to his colleagues across the state, but at the federal level and certainly at the local level as well. (He) has been a great mentor, great educator, and leader trying to always do the right thing for the right reasons and it has just been an absolute privilege every day to work with Decker,” said Naumann, 2nd Ward alderman and past president of the Iowa League of Cities.

"But that song has been sung by countless folks across the state and again at every level,” Naumann continued. “During the award, it was said fairly clearly that there is never going to be nor has there ever been another Decker.”

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Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis Reporter

Sarah is the Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis reporter for the Quad City Times covering local government and news in the those areas. She graduated from the University of Iowa this spring and was the editor of the student-run newspaper The Daily Iowan.

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